China-Afghanistan Relations seems to be blossoming which has the potential to rupture Pakistan-China ties. According to an op-ed – ‘Afghan Connection’ in The Dawn, the flourishing alliance between China and Afghanistan might place Islamabad in a tricky situation as Pakistan has been extremely sceptical about any outside influence in Afghanistan.
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The article says that Beijing has already gained a strong foothold in Afghanistan. Recently, China decided to train Afghan forces and deploy them in the Wakhan Corridor that links Badakhshan province in Afghanistan with Western China.
Also, over the last three years, China has given USD 70 million worth of defence aid to Afghanistan. Beijing also held consultations with the officials of the Afghan Taliban over the past year and reportedly broke the Eid ceasefire with Pakistan.
The article lists down three rationales for China’s evolving interest in Afghanistan. First, China wants to clamp down on the radicalisation by the Uighurs as it has massive concerns that the disgruntled and oppressed Uighurs would defect to Afghanistan for terror training.
Beijing also fears that terrorists affiliated with both the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the dreaded Islamic State (IS) groups would carry out attacks by having easy access to western China via the Wakhan Corridor.
She adds, “The main goal of Chinese investment in a ‘mountain brigade’ in the Wakhan Corridor is to block this two-way flow. This also explains why the majority of Chinese development spending in Afghanistan — $90m worth in September 2017 alone — is concentrated in Badakshan, the proximate Afghan province.”
China’s another important goal is to ensure the safety and security of its grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Beijing has recognised that “Kabul offering sanctuary to various terror groups poses the greatest threats to its projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and seeks to stabilise the country before the corridor is fully ‘operational’.”
Additionally, the increasing Chinese influence in Afghanistan will delink the US grip over the strife-torn country, something Beijing would increasingly attempt to do as relations between China and the US continues to escalate over trade tariffs.
The report states that these drivers present Islamabad with an opportunity to equalise its relationship with Beijing. After all, China does not know Afghanistan the way Pakistan does. It requires Pakistani interlocutors to achieve its goals. And in exchange for facilitation, China will be the heavy hitter ensuring Pakistan’s seat on the table during any peace negotiations.”
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The writer says that China is playing a crucial role in brokering talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beijing has urged the new government of Imran Khan to establish a crisis prevention mechanism to prevent flare-ups escalating from incidents such as terror attacks within Afghanistan. In December, China was instrumental in hosting a trilateral summit, where Kabul, Islamabad and Beijing jointly made a commitment to the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table by having peace talks.
However, the evolving relationship between China and Afghanistan could pose a threat between Sino-Pak ties. Yusuf opines that China’s main aim in Afghanistan is to keep the ETIM out of the scene, while Pakistan’s goal would be to put India out.
China will go all-out and will use its “current resources”, including India, to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan. During the Wuhan summit in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi agreed to jointly cooperate in Afghanistan, including the launching of economic projects to boost stability and growth in the war-torn country. China might knock Pakistan’s doors to curb on the alleged tolerance of terrorists in Afghanistan.